Sustainable community action

Phil Green started the Sustainable Community Action wiki in 2004 – it’s about:

Information and knowledge sharing, but with a focus on what might be useful to community groups and active citizens interested in taking action to make their communities more sustainable and in support of environmental, social and economic wellbeing,

For some time he’s been looking for a new home for the wiki, and he’s decided to work with Appropedia. We’re very glad to have him Phil, and look forward to working with him.

Phil is now adding pages to Appropedia about locations around the world and their community actions – hundreds in total – which he has consolidated from over 2600 pages on the original site. Some of these form new pages (see the Sustainable community action category) and others are being merged with existing pages.

This builds an important area in our sustainability knowledge bank, and I hope we can find a powerful synergy.

Saturday is Free Money Day

Around the world this Saturday, people will be handing out their own money to complete strangers, two coins or notes at a time, and asking the recipients to pass half on to someone else. This is Free Money Day.

The impact? A lot of positive confusion and questioning, the kind that leads to a rethinking of values. One example: A couple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, inspired by Free Money Day, declared they were “giving away half of our small land holdings… to begin a land trust for up and coming permaculture farmers”.

This action is organized by the Post Growth Institute, a thoughtful and provocative network of people around the world whose motto is “The end of bigger, the start of better.” When I first encountered them I was skeptical, but they’ve been encouraging people to question our unsustainable, GDP-focused status quo, and they deserve applause for that.

Do something you wouldn’t normally do – give out change to random strangers. Find out more at www.freemoneyday.org – and see the Participate page.

Here’s one of the great videos from the Post Growth Institute’s YouTube channel:

The symbolism of Earth Hour

Light a candle to reduce fossil fuel consumption! Wait a minute, what are those candles made from…?
Light a candle to reduce fuel consumption...?

In late 2011, Todd Sampson, CEO of the advertising agency behind Earth Hour, presented at a conference I attended, and he was engaging and inspiring. I’d always been skeptical of Earth Hour (wouldn’t a better action be to sign up for green energy with your power company?) But his presentation helped me be much more sympathetic: lights being turned off around the world is a grand symbolic action, and the sense that we connect with others around the world by taking part in this action is an inspiring, goose bump inducing feeling – at least while a gifted orator shared his described it from the stage accompanied by a beautiful slideshow.

It was a challenging audience, though, not your average sustainability conference, nor a marketing or managing conference – this was an audience of engineers. While younger engineers I spoke with were mostly positive about the presentation, and Earth Hour, but I found that older engineers in attendance were skeptical or ambivalent. One head of an engineering relief agency, not out of his 20’s but already skeptical enough, confessed privately: “I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation, and I resented him for it, because I knew it was marketing.”

For all our skepticism, though, I felt the emotional power of the symbolism, and I was struck that an advertising agency had done what it knew how to do, done it well, and inspired a grand gesture.

So I’m inspired… not to be less skeptical, as skepticism keeps us from folly. Not to be less practical, as symbolism is nothing without action. Rather, I’m inspired to be appreciative of the roles of others in our “ecosystem” of sustainable action.

And when I see someone doing X rather than Y (when Y is something far more important in my view), it’s a reminder for me to ask if Y is my role. I can’t do what an advertising agency can do, and I can’t expect an ad agency to do what I can do as an engineer (or a teacher, or business manager, or community member, or communicator, or gardener, or scientist… insert your role here). But we can look for ways to work together, to do what we must in facing our challenges.

Earth Hour’s challenge is no longer to connect people; the challenge is to offer a reason to connect. Any movement of change begins with symbolism – it’s a needed step to prove enough people care about an issue. – Earth Hour co-founder Andy Ridley